America is at ‘war’ with the ‘unseen’ – Part II
Only a couple of days ago, I arrived at the ‘shore’ of Chapter 72 of the Last Testament. Ayat 10 of that chapter reads- And we do not know [therefore] whether evil is intended for those on earth or whether their Lord intends for them a right course”.
In other words, only two possibilities exist for our world from this global pandemic: catastrophic implosion or discovery of new pathways to the Almighty. In regard to the first, we return prayerfully and with penitence to the Almighty in whose hands lie our souls saying: “Our Lord, remove from us this torment; indeed, we are believers” (Quran 44: 12). We supplicate as such even in the knowledge that “among us are the righteous, and among us are (others); that among us are Muslims and among us are the unjust” (Quran 72: 14)” - those who believe in disbelief; those who, despite this dire situation and circumstance are unprepared to see beyond COVID-19, to seek new connections with the Almighty, to acknowledge- “ that we can never impede the Almighty on this earth, nor is there an escape from His authority (Quran 72: 12).
In other words, whenever epidemics such as coronavirus breaks out and humanity finds itself at a loss as to what exactly might be its cause, one way to make sense of the situation is to return the cause to the First Cause, to the only One without a preceding cause. In other words, whenever the question becomes urgent, as it has been since late December “what is the origin of the coronavirus?”, the believer would find solace in the Almighty; in the knowledge that nothing happens either in the heavens or on earth except that they conform with His knowledge and permission. He says again: “With Him (the Almighty) are the keys of the Unseen; the treasures that none Knows but He! He Knows whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf doth fall but with His Knowledge: there is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry, but is (inscribed) in a Record Clear (with Him). (Quran 6: 59).
But the above Ayat (I refuse to reference it as verse for methodological and exegetical reasons) should not be read fatalistically; it should not be construed to mean we should resign ourselves to fate and, like the passengers in Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot, expect death and Armageddon. The Ayat should not be read to mean that believers are expected to not take action in order not to be infected by this disease as much as we can.
In a famous tradition, the Prophet (s.a.w) is reported in Sahih Muslim (Book 26, Number 5495) to have warned Muslims that if they hear of the outbreak of an epidemic (al-Ta’un) in a country other than theirs, they should not travel into it; and if it occurs in a country where they are domiciled, they should not embark on a journey out of the said country. This represents the very first principle in Islamic approach to disease containment and eradication. This principle is put in place in order to avoid the inadvertent spread of diseases and ailments by potential carriers. It is a principle which conduces to the divine writ in Quran 5: 32 that rewards that shall be given for any act of benevolence that leads to the preservation of human life shall be like that that would be due for any action that leads to the preservation of the entire human race and vice versa. It is probably in order to give effect to this principle that led the Saudis to suspend Umra activities till further notice. The spike in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria today resulted from the desire of my compatriots outside this country to come back home even in the knowledge that they were potential carriers of Coronavirus. If our air and land borders had been shut since February end, we probably would not have had COVID-19 cases to deal with as we do presently.
Brethren, while I was putting this sermon together, a video of Cuban doctors arriving in Italy to help that nation confront the COVID- 19 was sent to me. The doctors were seen arriving into a hall which was probably meant to receive them. Everybody in the hall immediately rose up in their honour; medics from Cuba, all blacks, on a rescue mission to the West, to Italy. Cuban doctors arrived from the South, to rescue the North; Black men emerged as saviours, as divine helpers in order to rescue the Whites from the throes of death and ruination. If indeed there are other lessons COVID-19 has come to ‘teach’ us, it is partly to remind us of our humanity; that, in line with the Prophetic tradition- that no race or nation enjoys any privilege over the other except in righteousness and goodness.
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Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies
Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.